Along the hot and sticky Gulf Coast, there’s a landfill. Every year, it accepts roughly 700,000 tons of waste onto its 60-acre facility.

For landfills in wet climates like the Southeast, where big storms roll through often, and humidity hangs heavy in the air, leachate management presents a serious challenge. And this landfill is no different.

It’s even more challenging when your leachate pond is getting full.

The subsidiary that owns and operates this landfill sent John, a corporate engineer and sustainability manager who asked to remain anonymous, down to access the situation. John’s goal? Find a leachate management solution before this situation truly became a problem.

He turned to our team at Atmos Technologies.

Here’s how our team helped him find an alternative way to cost-effectively manage this landfill’s leachate.

A leachate pond on the verge of overflow

Depending on rainfall amounts, the landfill generates between 15 and 20 million gallons of leachate per year, which is standard for the region. Before working with Atmos, most of that leachate went into a large pond.

“You can fill up the pond, but you can only fill it up once,” John said. “And you get some evaporation, but obviously it’s very humid here, so you don’t get a ton.”

And when evaporation does occur, it increases the concentration of solids in the pond. Over time, as these solids build up, they make evaporation less and less effective as a leachate management strategy.

“From a water treatment standpoint, solids really mess you up,” he said. “You basically have to get rid of those before you can do any kind of other treatment. Otherwise, they hamper any efforts to do anything else. Any kind of filter, carbon or filtration media immediately gets blinded off.”

Fortunately, the landfill’s concentration of solids hadn’t approached any regulatory thresholds. But unfortunately, the pond was too close to capacity for comfort.

Staring down an expensive Plan B

While the landfill discharged most of the leachate to the pond, they still sent some of it to their local publicly owned treatment works (POTW). Just one or two loads a week — enough to keep the relationship open if and when the situation with the leachate pond became dire.

“One or two loads isn’t that big of a deal, but if all of your leachate has to go to a POTW … a swing like that could hurt,” John said. “Our pond was to the point where we couldn’t direct discharge and that’s kind of the problem. We got a POTW lined up and started moving that direction, but obviously we didn’t want to bite that bullet if we don’t have to.”

A bullet that could have cost them millions of dollars per year, with no guarantee of how long the POTW would accept their leachate. Then they’d be right back at square one.

“But we could not allow the pond to overflow.”

Looking for something new, and finding it

Late last year, John and the landfill started evaluating their options.

Reverse osmosis wouldn’t solve the solids issue. An evaporator was too similar to what they were already doing. And the landfill wasn’t large enough for a biological system. He needed something else.

Something like the new Atmos Leachate Treatment System (ALTS) — a system that filters the contaminants out of leachate, leaving clean water for reuse or disposal. The modular design also makes it highly customizable, meaning the landfill could double down on the stage that manages solids.

And it made sense on the PnL. There’d be no capital expense with the ALTS (the landfill would only pay for each gallon of leachate that we successfully treated), and no need to hire any additional employees to operate and maintain the system.

“It was smooth sailing. Atmos just handled it.”

From the first visit to collect raw leachate samples to the day ALTS turned on, the whole installation process took about 12 weeks. This included:
• Determining the best place to put the 60-foot by 60-foot system
• Assessing plumbing demands
• Deciding to direct discharge the effluents

The whole process felt easy and straightforward for John.

Now, with the system up and running, the landfill is already seeing results. Before filtering their leachate through the ALTS, it had 10,000 mg/L of TOC. Now, after treatment, that number dropped to 32 mg/L — low enough they could direct discharge the clean water.

“There’s no noxious stuff, obviously no odors, no constituents below levels that are below what you would consider wastewater,” according to the sustainability manager. “It’s obviously not drinking water standard, but it’s a significant improvement from what it is coming out of the hill.”

ContaminantRaw
leachate
ALTS treated
leachate
Contaminant
reduction (%)
TOC10,000 mg/L32 mg/L99.7
TDS28,000 mg/L1,370 mg/L95.1
TSS390 mg/L3.5 mg/L99.1
COD40,000 mg/L101 mg/L99.7
BOD2,330 mg/L76 mg/L96.7
Oil/greaseNon detect Non detectN/A
Acetone2,980 ug/LNon detect100
Arsenic312 ug/L7.2 ug/L97.7
Iron436,000 ug/L208 ug/L99.9
Zinc5,640 ug/LNon detect100
Nitrogen, ammonia1,100 ug/LNon detect100
PFBS27,500 ng/LNon detect100
PFHxA7,560 ng/LNon detect100
PFBA1,750 ng/LNon detect100
PFPeA1,810 ng/LNon detect100
PFOA934 ng/LNon detect100
PFHxS352 ng/LNon detect100
The leachate contaminant levels before and after treatment

“[The Atmos team] is good,” John said. “They know their process and they know water treatment. So, when you encounter something, they generally have ideas on how to fix it.”

So far, there hasn’t been much to fix. And the landfill no longer worries about leachate pond capacity.

You can take control of your leachate management

Moving forward, the landfill plans on slowly phasing out those weekly trips to the POTW, just as John hopes to implement the ALTS at the subsidiary’s other landfills.

“What Atmos is really doing is they’re optimizing our leachate treatment and disposal to meet real-world logistical issues,” he said.

To learn how the Atmos Leachate Treatment System can help your landfill, too, get in touch with our team.

It’s a nightmare come true for many landfills: The closest publicly owned treatment works (POTW) stops accepting your leachate.

Maybe it’s too contaminated.

Maybe they can take some, but not all of it.

Or maybe they simply jacked the price up too high to be economically feasible.

Regardless, when this happens to you, you’ll have two options. You could bite the bullet and rack up even more transportation costs by trucking your leachate to another POTW that may or may not take it. Or you could find a new way to manage your leachate.

And POTW regulations concerning discharge cleanliness standards, the amount of leachate POTWs are allowed to take and the concentration of contaminants in that waste continue to tighten, you likely will need to find a new way to manage your leachate.

The Atmos Leachate Treatment System (ALTS) is the alternative way of cleaning your leachate. It filters out contaminants by combining three technologies (ultra filtration, nano filtration and reverse osmosis), leaving you with clean water you can dispose of or reuse in your operations.

But is it right for your needs? Consider these three questions:

  1. How much leachate do you produce and how contaminated is it?
  2. What are you doing with your leachate now?
  3. Do you want to reuse or dispose your water?

How much leachate do you produce and how contaminated is it?

The quantity and quality of your leachate impacts the Atmos Leachate Treatment System’s efficacy at your landfill. Let’s look closer at each of these factors.

The amount of leachate you produce

In a 24-hour period, the ALTS processes up to 70,000 gallons of leachate.

To treat quantities outside that range (either less than 15,000 to 20,000 gallons, or more than 70,000), you may need to adjust the system.

Thanks to the ALTS’ modular design, customizing the combination of technologies to meet your landfill’s needs is simple. Whether you only need to combat certain contaminants, require more modules to increase capacity or need less support to accommodate fewer gallons, we build the system to your specifications.

But how much leachate the ALTS cleans also depends on how dirty your leachate is to begin with.

Your contaminant load

If you’re interested in the ALTS, one of the first steps is sending us your raw leachate data. Once we understand your contaminant load and your goals, we can start designing a system that’s right for your landfill.

But don’t worry, we designed the ALTS to handle the worst of the worst. Here’s an example of the typical results you might see with the treatment system in place.

ContaminantRaw leachateALTS treated leachateContaminant
reduction (%)
TOC30,800 mg/L48 mg/L99.8
Oil/grease13 mg/L0 mg/L100
TDS80,800 mg/L204 mg/L99.75
Chloride9,280 mg/L28 mg/L99.7
Acetone30,500 ug/L94 ug/L99.69
Butanone16,200 ug/L0 ug/L100
PFOS400 ppt1.52 ppt99.62
PFOA1,060 pptNon detect100
PFHxS151 pptNon detect100
PFNA204 pptNon detect100
PFBS424 pptNon detect100

If you only need to reduce the amount of ammonia in your leachate, consider bioaugmentation. This natural, cost-effective fix uses microorganisms to lower ammonia nitrate levels until they’re within the acceptable range for a POTW or other treatment method.

What are you doing with your leachate now? Is it actually working for your landfill’s sustainability goals?

Trucking leachate to the nearest POTW tops the list of the most common leachate management methods, but other strategies exist. And in certain circumstances, sticking with those solutions could make more sense for your landfill.

Ponds and other evaporators

Another common management method is to dig a large pond to collect the leachate for eventual evaporation. This process takes time and often depends on the weather. For example, a rainy season could slow evaporation down even further. Similarly, evaporators atomize the leachate, speeding up the natural evaporation that happens in ponds.

Landfills often run into capacity issues with both of these methods.

Reverse osmosis on its own

The ALTS’ third and final module uses reverse osmosis to filter out the finest contaminants, like PFOS and PFAS. And while R.O. excels at removing those, it handles larger contaminants poorly. TDS and TSS tend to clog the expensive membranes, meaning they’ll need to be replaced more often.

Much like ponds and other evaporators, reverse osmosis-only solutions have a much smaller capacity than the Atmos Leachate Treatment System.

On-site wastewater treatment plants

By building the equivalent of your own POTW at your landfill, you could process your own leachate without having to worry about trucking and other additional fees. However, facilities like this take years and at least $4-5 million in CapEx to build. For smaller landfills, it’s just not an option, even if it would reduce costs long term.

In contrast, the ALTS requires no capital expenditure, and we can design, build and install it in 12 weeks, which makes it an effective solution for landfills of any size.

Bioreactor or anaerobic digestors

As the most expensive option, any kind of microbial-based solution becomes a massive undertaking that requires a high quantity of leachate and a lot of open space. But it also results in the lowest treatment cost. If your landfill has a solution like this in place, you likely don’t need an additional leachate management system.

Direct access to a POTW

Finally, while rare and becoming rarer, some landfills have standing agreements with their local POTWs to pipe leachate directly to the facility.

If your landfill lucked out with a sweetheart deal like this — or operates near enough to a POTW to have minimal transportation costs — this is the more cost-effective solution. After all, if a treatment facility accepts your raw leachate as is, what’s the point in cleaning it?

But arrangements like this are vanishing. Just because this option exists, doesn’t mean it will six months to a year down the road as POTWs increase their prices and discontinue service for landfills with high contaminant loads.

For example, a landfill in the Pacific Northwest recently found itself in this exact situation — suddenly cut off. Not only had its heavily contaminated leachate pushed the POTW beyond the limits of its permit, but the leachate had also started killing the facility’s bacteria. Stuck, they turned to the ALTS and found a new solution for their leachate.

If you use any of these solutions, ask yourself these questions

Are you keeping up with leachate production?

Are you getting your intended results?

If you answered no to either, a two-pronged approach — or a new method entirely — may be right for your operations. We’ve implemented the ALTS as a full-scale solution in some cases, but also as a supplementary strategy when necessary.

It may feel like an expensive, redundant hassle to add another leachate management system if you already have a capital-intense one in place. But if you aren’t seeing the results you need, you may need another option.

Do you want to reuse or dispose your water

How clean you need your leachate to be depends on what you want to do with the water.

After the Atmos Leachate Treatment System filters your leachate’s contaminants out, you have many sustainable options for what you do with the water, including:

Your goals impact which permits you need from the EPA or your county. Our team of experts can guide you through this process and design your ALTS to meet the necessary requirements.

For example, NDPES permits for direct discharge into U.S. waters come with a plethora of red tape, but permits for direct land application for uses that stay on site (such as for crop irrigation) aren’t as strictly controlled.

Take control of your leachate management

\You need a powerful, versatile strategy to clean your leachate. If you think the Atmos Leachate Treatment System could be right for your landfill, get in touch with our team. We’ll discuss your leachate, your goals and how we can help you reach them.